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7:49PM

Gruden on the Raiders: ‘I know it gets ugly at times’

   OAKLAND, Calif.—This wasn’t in the script for Jon Gruden. He was supposed to return to Oakland, and with his smile and style, make his team wow us on the field as he did for years in the ESPN booth.

  Did you hear or read anything negative when he took the head coaching job last winter?

  Things have not gone well at all. In fact they’ve gone terribly. The Raiders are 1-6 after their, 42-38, defeat by the Indianapolis Colts at the Coliseum on Sunday and nit-picking fills the room, which is understandable.

   Another TV broadcaster who also was a Raider coach John Madden, would tell us “Winning is a great deodorant.”  But when you don’t win the odor, real or imagined, is very prevalent.

   The smallest items grow enormously, in proportion to the losses.

 First there was trade before the season of arguably Oakland’s best player, defensive end Khalil Mack. Then last week, the Raiders saw off another star, Amari Cooper, the receiver.  After that the story, or rumor, quarterback Derek Carr had lost the respect of the team.

  If the Raiders were any good, that stuff would be trivial. But they’re not any good.  So the trivial becomes monumental, and the head coach and the quarterback become the focus. And controversial.

  “I don’t know where the controversy is coming from,” said Gruden, whose defense against the media was probably a bit more effective than his team’s against the Colts. Indy rolled up 461 yards, compared to Oakland’s 347.

  “The reality is we made a trade,” said Gruden alluding to the deal that sent Cooper, the receiver, to Dallas for a first-round draft pick. “I don’t think it hurt the offense, and I hope Amari Cooper does great. We need to address this roster, and we’re doing the best we can, but I’m not going to keep talking about the critics because we’ve got to get better in a lot of areas.”

  Indeed. Carr played maybe his best game of the year—was it in response to the knocks and questions?—but the defense, as almost every game, was a disaster.  The first quarter, the Colts got the ball and kept it and kept it, 14 minutes 4 seconds out of the total 15.

    “I know it gets ugly at times,” said Gruden, “but in a lot of ways I’m excited about the future.”

  It was George Allen coaching the Washington Redskins who insisted, “The future is now.” True, you need plan for the coming seasons, but with the Raiders moving to Las Vegas in two years it’s doubtful the fans in Oakland—and they awoke for a few loud sessions Sunday—are concerned with 2020 and beyond.

  To the Raiders credit, after trailing 10-0 almost instantly, they worked their way to a 28-21 third quarter lead. But there’s that problem with the defense, especially against a quarterback named Andrew Luck, the overall No. 1 pick, out of Stanford, in the 2011draft. He was 22 of 31 for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

  And there were those agonizing mistakes, rookie punter Johnny Townsend kicking one only 25 yards in the fourth quarter, with the score tied 28-28, and running back  Doug Martin, subbing for the injured Marshawn Lynch,  losing a fumble the first scrimmage play after the Colts went in front, 35-28.

  That’s what happens to bad teams and the reason they are bad teams.

  Carr, throwing for three touchdowns and sneaking a yard for a fourth, was asked if he had been particularly motivated because of the stories about him during the week.

  “No,” said Carr, “I’m the same every day. “I had to answer  some funny questions this week, but I know you guys have to do your jobs. It’s nothing personal. It I’m being honest, as a human, it’s hard.

 “There was nothing that was different in my mindset. I’m already a pretty fiery guy . . . My goodness, enough is enough. The best part of my day Wednesday, media day, was to get back on the field and play football. “

  He was back again Sunday, doing well enough, but the Raiders also were back losing again.

  “It’s tough,” said Jon Gruden.  Tougher than anyone believed it would be.

5:15PM

Gruden has a list of regrets, but not the one you might think

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His regrets? “I’ve got a list of things,” Jon Gruden told us Tuesday. And, he suggested, so do the rest of us, because none of is perfect.

But the rest of us are not the head coach of an NFL team with a 1-5 record. The rest of do not have a multi-million-dollar contract as that coach has.

With rare exceptions — Bill Walsh leaving, George Seifert being elevated — winning teams do not change coaches. Gruden may have arrived in a swirl of fame and anticipation, but the head coach is only as good as his players.

And it has become obvious that many of the players on the Oakland Raiders are not very good. Especially on defense, where games are won — or, mostly, lost.

If, apropos of nothing but pertinent to everything, you choose to believe one of the reasons for the Raiders’ mess was the absurd trading of Khalil Mack, who not only was their best defensive player but arguably their best player, you are permitted that belief.

Does Gruden regret that transaction? Does Gruden regret returning to the Raiders after a departure some 20 years earlier? If anyone did chance to ask him either question, especially on leaving ESPN to rejoin the Raiders— and none of us has the temerity to do so at this juncture — he wouldn’t respond candidly. And who would blame him?

So instead, the questions deal with injuries (the Raiders have many, but so do other NFL teams). With Derek Carr’s quarterbacking. With opponents (did anyone doubt the Seattle Seahawks still have a solid team?). And with the bye the Raiders have this weekend.

Gruden still has that sly look we’ve come to know over the years, on the sideline, in the TV booth. He hasn’t become disagreeable as, say, Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants has.

In the better old days, the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gruden was known for his work ethic. He came to the office early (really early, as in 3:30 or 4 a.m.) and stayed late. Presumably he still keeps long hours — although at age 55 are they as long as they were at 35? — and he still keeps his enthusiasm.

He wanted this job. At least the job offer, with the huge salary, with the opportunity to follow his muse, was one he couldn’t refuse. What he didn’t want was a roster that seems to be spending days in the training room, a roster of older players being replaced by younger — if inexperienced — new ones.

That trip to and from London for a game at Wembley Stadium is one against jet lag as well as an opponent. Gruden on Sunday in the locker room said he enjoyed the journey. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I’ll always remember it in a bad way.”

There haven’t been too many good memories this return season. That game against the Seahawks wasn’t even entertaining, Oakland down 27-0 until mercifully kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to lose, 27-3.

The London Daily Telegraph headline described the Raiders as “limp,” and the story promised that the next NFL game at Wembley, on Oct. 21 between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers, “looks likely to be more competitive.”

Hard to say if the Raiders next game, on Oct. 28 against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland, will be, but it couldn’t be any worse than the most recent.

“We’re trying” said Gruden. “We’re working hard. I’m not going to never throw the ball on first-and-goal again. All my friends in the league do it. I don’t really think it’s living dangerously, either. When it’s intercepted and it’s ugly like it was, it’s going to be magnified.”

That was the previous week against the Chargers, in San Diego. He took a chance, but that’s what coaches are supposed to when they know down deep their team is not as good as the other one.

“You just have to continue to go with your gut feeling,” said Gruden. “Go with your preparation. Be true to your gut. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. There are going to be some mistakes, and I’ll take responsibility for all of them.”

Change is coming. “We’re still looking at the roster,” said Gruden. “We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie (McKenzie, the general manager) and I had a long meeting Monday. I know that’s a shock to some people. They don’t think we have any meetings. I’m telling you, we’re working hard to solidify this roster every day and improve ourselves and get the right people on the field ... We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

And hope the road doesn’t run into a mountain.

8:25PM

Gruden 'a little depressed' by his Raiders 

 

ALAMEDA, Calif.-Monday, Monday. A song from the 1960s A day on which Jon Gruden would give us his take from the ESPN booth. He analyzed; he chuckled. He had the best of all possible worlds.


Now Gruden has returned to coaching, coming back to the Oakland Raiders. Now, at this Monday, there are no chuckles. Now there are only losses and heartache.

 

"I really haven't thought about much," was his comment, when asked about giving up a home game so the Raiders on Sunday could play in London. "Obviously I'm a little depressed today."

 

It's hard to think of Gruden as depressed.  He was always so upbeat, so buoyant, so eager to make everyone watching him or listening to him appreciate the nuances of football, to grasp what separates one player from another, one team from another.

 

But the Raiders, Jon Gruden's Raiders, are 1-4, and have a game overseas against the Seattle Seahawks, who may be 2-3 but played well against the unbeaten Rams-or at least better than the Raiders did against the Chargers.

 

You can sympathize with Gruden, whose quarterback seems to be regressing and whose former best defensive player is on the Chicago Bears.  Or you can shrug and point out no one forced Jon to leave his happy ESPN home. All this pain, this little depression, is self-inflicted.

 

Gruden understands where he is, even if he doesn't quite understand how he got there. Derek Carr throwing an interception on first and goal from the Chargers one? What, are you crazy?

 

The Raiders trailed, 20-3, at the time (They would lose, 26-10). The play wasn't decisive. It was disheartening. It was what has happened to the Raiders, a mistake when they could not afford one.

 

When he was broadcasting, everything went right for Gruden. A slip-up, say calling the wrong first name, was correctable with an apology. But you can't apologize when the decision is to throw on first and yard and the ball is picked off-and you have Marshawn Lynch willing and able and showing disdain for the call by tearing off his helmet.

 

You only can try to explain, which on this Monday is what Gruden did.

 

"I don't want to see anybody get upset," said Gruden, certainly including himself. "I want everybody to be happy. It won't be the last pass I call on first and goal either. I think it's best to throw down there."

 

Uh, Jon, that Super Bowl, XLIX, when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called a pass from the one, and it was intercepted by New England? Remember?  Marshawn Lynch was ignored on that play too. Fortunately this wasn't quite as important.

 

"I regret it was intercepted," said a self-effacing Gruden. "Turns out to be a terrible call. But we were down 20-3. Melvin Ingram is their middle linebacker in a jam front, and I wanted to throw a play-action pass on the one-foot line. My opinion is it shouldn't have been intercepted."

 

OK. He still sounds like the ESPN analyst with that remark.

 

"We shouldn't do that," Gruden confirmed. "But we did. Lynch is frustrated. (Gruden) threw my visor and my headset. So I think we have a lot in common."

 

Throwing equipment is permitted. Throwing away a chance to score is not. Coaches as players are imperfect. If you listen to a coaching headset during a game, there is anger and obscenities. The situation seems chaotic. And there's no director back in the production truck offering advice.

 

Gruden was asked if five games into his return to coaching the job is taking a toll on him. The answer wasn't necessarily the whole truth and nothing but.  Nobody's going to concede, "Hey, I shouldn't have taken the job," after only a few weeks.

 

"No, I just don't like to lose," was Gruden's response. "I think we have work to do. There's not enough time in the day to do it. I'm depressed. I'm tired. I want to win. I want to do better. We have to get back to work here."

 

What they really to do in Jon Gruden's first year back is have some success. It's a tough business Jon. But you knew that, didn't you?

 

8:27PM

Gruden after the 0-2 start: ‘No regrets’

  ALAMEDA, Calif.—This is what Jon Gruden wanted. Well, not exactly. He didn’t want to lose the first two games on his return to coaching. He didn’t want to feel forced to trade away probably his best player, Khalil Mack. He wanted to be in charge of an NFL team once more, and so he is, with all the problems that brings.

  Even Monday, another day after, another day to get peppered with the questions he used to ask—or at least hint at—Gruden indicated there were no regrets.

  Coaches coach. Maybe John Madden secure in his well-earned reputation, not to mention the East Bay real estate holdings, was able to resist the call. But Dick Vermeil, Joe Gibbs and one of Gruden’s recent ESPN colleagues, Herman Edwards, stepped away from microphones and back into the line of fire.

   Gruden was not naïve. He knew the drill. He knew the misfortunes. He knew he was a star on Monday nights with a salary equal to his status. But deep down he was and is a football coach, and that can bring as much pain as satisfaction.

   A game the Oakland Raiders never trailed. Until the final 10 seconds. Until the only time that mattered. A game the Raiders lost on field goal, 20-19, because the Denver Broncos were able to move the ball from their own 20 to the Oakland 18 in a minute 48 seconds, allowing that 36-yard kick in the gut—uh, over the crossbar by Brandon McManus.

  A game that perfectly set up questions about the defensive line and the lack of Mack, who might have made a difference on that drive. Might. Gruden knew that was coming. He understands the game and the business.

   “I think we said after the game,” Gruden said to a packed media room at Raiders HQ, “we got to make improvements there. Across the board we got to make improvements.”

  But he doesn’t have to second-guess himself, at least in a public forum, with cameras and microphones and oh so many digital recorders and note pads.

  “No,” he answered about sending Mack away. “It doesn’t make me regret. We made the trade. We made the trade.”

  Not so nice had had to say it twice, but he did.

  “There has got to be hindsight. 50-50, all that stuff.”

  To be sure without Mack, the pass rusher, the All-Pro, there was no stuff, the type that stops an offense where he tried to start.

  “I would have loved to have had him,” said Gruden, quite forthright. “And I’m not going to keep rehashing this. I would have loved to have coached him, loved to have had him here. But he’s not here. Somebody’s got to step up.

  “We got to keep building our football team, and that’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully, we see more from Arden Key, we see more from P.J. Hall when he gets healthy. Hopefully we prove that in the long term we did the right thing.” 

  Players win games. Derek Carr, criticized obliquely the previous game, against the Rams, for not being decisive, nearly won this one, setting a team completion percentage record. Amari Cooper, 10 receptions for 116 yards, nearly won this one. Marshawn Lynch, 65 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, nearly won this one.

  It’s hard to know whether Mack could have won this one, but the future draft picks the Raiders acquired didn’t do a thing. Indeed, that’s a gratuitous comment. The Raiders are what they are, which is an NFL team on the verge—of what no one can say, including the head coach.

  Gruden was asked what he saw from the first two games--two losing games, one of them well played, that made him think the Raiders still could be a contender—although truth tell he never even implied that, much less said it directly.

   “I’m not going to sit here and make predictions here today,” he said, sitting there. “I’m not going to do it. We’re going to keep building our football team. Whether that translates into one win or four wins or any wins . . . I’m not going to make any predictions about anything other than we’re going to play hard and provide the best effort we can.”

 As he departed, Gruden walked through the door and into one more question. Did he wish he hadn’t left ESPN for what surrounded him?

  “Not at all,” Gruden said. You sensed he very much meant it, and the heck with Khalil Mack.

8:40PM

Gruden and Raiders: Can he go home again?

ALAMEDA Calif.—You’re a Raiders fan—an Oakland Raiders fan—and you wonder what they’re going to do to you next? Your loyalty goes unrewarded. Your frustration is ignored.

  The new coach, who used to be the old coach, said he came back because he had something to prove. Where’s he going to prove it, in Las Vegas?

  The team isn’t very good, which can’t be blamed on the coach—except he was involved in trading the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, for draft picks,  some of whom, it the timetable holds, will not be on team until it’s no longer in Oakland,.

  The coach ought to know about giving up people who matter for potential. draftees. Nearly 20 years ago he was the guy who mattered, the coach of a Raiders team that was in the playoffs, that in a couple seasons would win a Super Bowl. But Jon Gruden had been swapped for draft picks who never did very much.

  When Gruden arrived the first time, 1998, he was 35 and loving it. He cracked jokes, taunted the writers. He worked for Al Davis, yes, nerve-wracking. Still it was his first NFL head coaching assignment. This was what he always wanted, so how could he not handle everything with a smile?

  Now he is 55. And famous, more so as commentator for ESPN—hey aren’t you the guy we saw on TV?—than for his coaching background. The Raiders were pounded by the Rams, 33-13, Monday, Gruden’s return game, and Tuesday Gruden was confronted by the media, for a second time in maybe 14 hours. There weren’t a lot of laughs.

  Mack wouldn’t have made the Raiders a winner, although he would have made them more competitive. Defense wins. Everyone in football knows that. You don’t get rid of a once-in-a-decade pass rusher.

  You know the line. It was given to Thomas Wolfe by an English writer, Ella Winter, and he was so enamored Wolfe used it as the title of his last novel,”You Can’t Go Home Again.”  You can walk in the door of the old house years later, but nothing is quite same. Different viewpoints, different situations.

  After he left as head coach of the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls, Bill Walsh returned to Stanford, where he had earned his reputation. But it didn’t quite work. He didn’t have the same enthusiasm and the student-athletes, as the label goes, were not the way he remembered. Society changes. Sports changes.

  Gruden knows the game.  He was less a commentator than an instructor and critic on those “John Gruden Quarterback Camp” segments, one of which dealt with a kid named Derek Carr, who the second half Monday night played less than favorably, throwing interceptions,

  Still, it you’re always behind because the other team (i.e., Rams) is sharp on offense and you’re less than sharp on defense—or offense—the quarterback, in this case, Carr, is going to be heaving balls in desperation.

‘There were a few plays when unchacteristically (Carr) wasn’t at his best,” said Gruden. No quips. No double-entendre. No TV commentary. Just a cold, hard serious observation.

  “Sometimes,” Gruden pointed out correctly, “you have to credit (Rams defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips.” As if Phillips didn’t receive all the credit possible as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos when they stiffed Carolina in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

  “They gave us multiple looks out there,” said Gruden of the Rams defense. “They have some talented people out there. It’s just disappointing. But I think knowing how good Derek is it can all be solved.”

  Is that coach talking or the TV announcer?

  Gruden knows his stuff. He also knows what his team lacks—a top pass rusher, like Khalil Mack. Funny you should mention that.

  One thing that hasn’t changed in the 10 years since he left coaching and the 20 years or so since he first game with the Raiders is that defeat remains painful.

  “It stinks,” he said candidly, “Losses all feel painful. Especially Monday night losses when you have to get up and get ready for a team like Denver.”

   What do you think it is for Raider fans who have to get ready for losing their team in Oakland?